Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says it is "irrelevant" whether or not his family firm does business with a large U.S printing company he and his brother opened doors for at city hall, arguing the Fords' company has too many clients for him to declare a conflict on every one.
The mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, went on the offensive Monday against new revelations by The Globe and Mail detailing the business ties between the Fords' company, Deco Labels and Tags, and Chicago-based R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. The Globe investigation found evidence that R.R. Donnelley, which was vying for the city's in-house printing operations with the help of the mayor and his brother in 2011, is a client of the Ford family's label business. The investigation found Deco had been subcontracted by Moore Canada – which is owned by R.R. Donnelley – to print baggage tags. Councillor Doug Ford was the sales person responsible for the account.
Mayor Ford confirmed Monday that he helped organize a meeting between R.R. Donnelley and city staff, explaining in a statement that representatives from the company approached his office.
The mayor told reporters he did not recall whether R.R. Donnelley was a Deco client, but in a round of media interviews Doug Ford said his family company had printed tags for about 15 years for the company under two contracts that he described as "small."
The Globe's story comes after the paper reported that the Fords intervened on behalf of another major Deco client, Apollo Health and Beauty Care – an allegation that is being investigated by Toronto's integrity commissioner. Democracy Watch and several citizens have filed complaints with Janet Leiper, alleging the mayor and his brother have inappropriately combined their private business interests with their duties as elected officials and allegedly violated the code of conduct for members of council.
The mayor responded to the latest findings and renewed calls for the integrity commissioner to investigate, by saying he welcomes any businesses that are trying to save the city money, and does not distinguish whether or not they are a Deco client.
"People come with ideas to save the city money, I'll be the first one to bring them in, bring the managers and say, here's some ideas. If that's a conflict, I'm going to have a conflict with almost every business or person in this city," the mayor said. "I guess I am in a conflict."
There is nothing in law that requires the mayor or Councillor Ford to publicly disclose Deco's clients. They are required under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act to declare a conflict if, at city council, they are voting on, or speaking to, a matter in which they have a direct or indirect pecuniary interest. None of their advocacy on behalf of R.R. Donnelley or Apollo took place at council.
The mayor said Deco's clients are too numerous to declare a conflict with each one. "We have done business with every single company almost in Ontario. We are right around the world," he said, when asked whether R.R. Donnelley is a client.
"I am not part of the business. I am only a principal owner," he said. "I can't recall if they're one of our customers or not – irrelevant. It doesn't matter."
Either way, Mr Ford said the public does not have an interest in his family's personal affairs. "Our business is our business," he said "I don't ask you how much money you've got in the bank."
Councillor Ford, who refused requests for an interview from The Globe, confirmed Monday that R.R. Donnelley is a Deco client. "We have done two small tags for 15 years. The same little tags, which is minute," he told Global News.
The Etobicoke councillor in the same interview threatened to sue The Globe and Mail, saying it is in possession of confidential information from Deco. "They are unlawfully in possession of stolen material," he said.
The paper's Editor-in-Chief David Walmsley responded, saying "The Globe did not steal information as alleged by Councillor Ford. We received reliable information, that was clearly in the public interest, from a credible confidential source."
Mayor Ford said he welcomed an integrity commissioner investigation, but has not been contacted. "I'll be more than happy to answer any questions," he said.
Integrity Commissioner Ms. Leiper stressed that she cannot discuss any active investigations, including the alleged Deco-Donnelley connection. But in an interview Monday, she said the duration of a probe depends on the particulars of each case. Mayoral candidate John Tory and Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly have both called on her to accelerate the investigation. "The timeline is driven by the requirements of the investigation," she said. "It's obviously not a politically driven decision." With her term expiring on Sept. 5, it's possible the investigation may be handed off to her successor.
She said provincial legislation gives her the legal power to obtain documents and interview witnesses from organizations outside the City of Toronto, including private companies.
With reports from John Lorinc